Mongolia is a vast country, but a large part of the population lives in its capital, Ulaanbaatar. I would strongly advise you visit this amazing country and its proud people. I‘ve been to Mongolia quite a few of times, so I believe I can give you some useful tips that might help you prepare for a trip to this country.
1. The tourist season is very short. The best time to visit Mongolia is June – September. Summer is enjoyable in Mongolia and rather short, and this is when most tourists visit. There are sandstorms in spring and autumn, and the airlines have difficulties dealing with them. Winters are very harsh and the temperature can get below minus 40 degrees C.
2. A vaccine against hepatitis A is advisable, hepatitis B is highly endemic.
3. Try to plan your trip during the Naadam festival, which is organized around 10-12 July every year. I understand it is the most popular national festival in this country, and even on the streets of the capital you will see hundreds of people wearing national costumes. The main games of Naadam are wrestling, horse riding and archery. Besides these you will see lots of traditional singing and dancing.
4. Be prepared for long and bumpy rides, so pack some music or audio-books to help pass the time.
5. You need to pack light for local flights as you will have to manage with much lighter luggage than an international flight. In the Gobi desert days are hot in summer, but nights might be quite chilly, so prepare accordingly.
6. My strong advice is to get a local guide or to stay in an organized camp. Staying in remote areas alone might be dangerous. I have heard several stories of backpackers traveling independently, and being robbed while sleeping in their tents. There are some reported cases of foreigners being attacked in Ulaanbaatar as well. It is not advisable to leave your hotel at night alone. Also try to avoid poorly lit areas. Try to use a legitimate taxi.
7. The most usual way to stay in the countryside is in tourist ger camps. There are 3-4 beds in a ger. These camps have the usual water-flush toilets and showers.
8. Mobile connection works almost everywhere in the country, and it might be a good idea to get a local Mobicom card. Ask your hotel concierge for advice on where to obtain one.
9. Pack some snacks as you may get a bit tired of heavy Mongolian meat-based cuisine. Mongolian food is delicious, but if you are vegetarian, you might face challenges. Mongols eat a lot of different meat – pork, beef, lamb and of course yak. They claim that the meat is organic, as animals are allowed to roam free. Consumption of vegetables has increased, but still remains low. My favourite Mongolian dish is kuushuur, which is a meat pastry. The problem is that I can only handle 1-2 pieces maximum – a common serving is 6!
10. Mongols enjoy strong drinks like vodka. They produce their own vodkas and are proud of them. You can find quite good beers as well.
11. You can find places with hot springs in Mongolia as well. This is a growing industry for Mongolian tourism.
12. Ulaanbaatar is not the most beautiful capital, and there is heavy traffic. If you want to see the real beauty of Mongolia, go to the countryside and visit the Gobi desert.
13. If you stay in a ger – a traditional Mongolian house, you need to adhere to certain rules. Never step on a threshold while entering the ger. Never lean against a supporting column, walls or furniture. Never refuse offerings of food or drink even if you do not finish them.
Women do not sit crossed-legged in the ger. Do not put any trash or litter on the fire. Fire is sacred in Mongolia.
14. Only drink bottled water and avoid ice cubes.
15. Tips are not expected, but appreciated.
16. Popular international credit cards are accepted in the capital, but in the countryside, you need to use local currency (cash).
17. Ulaanbaatar has a lot of internet cafes, and internet coverage in the country is quite good.
18. Always ask permission when taking photos of local people.
19. It is a good idea to have small gifts for locals with you. It is considered rude not to accept a gift offered to you.
20. Contrary to other Asian countries, haggling is not common in Mongolia.
21. What to take home from Mongolia? My gifts from Mongolia usually include high-quality cashmere items and some local leather goods. You can also find some fur products and local organic cosmetics.